George Joseph, professor in the French and Francophone Department, and Assistant Professor James McCorkle and Scholar in Residence Thelma Pinto, both of the Africana Studies Program, recently participated in the 37th Annual African Literature Association conference, held at Ohio University this spring. The theme of the conference was “African Literature, Visual Arts and Film in Local and Transnational Spaces” All three presented papers and Pinto was honored as a “Founding Mother” of the Women’s Caucus of the African Literature Association (WOCALA) at its 20th anniversary luncheon. Roger Arnold ’10 also presented a paper based on the Honors research he conducted last year.
Annually, the conference brings together scholars, writers, artists and filmmakers from all over the world. Joseph, director of the African Literature Association, the headquarters of which is housed at HWS, presented “Borderzone Identities: The Proliferating Dynamics of Family Creation in Fadel Dia‘s La Raparille.”
Pinto’s paper “The Future of African Literature in the Western Academy” addressed African literature at South African universities in post apartheid South Africa (Western Academy). The paper explored how South African literature survived under the brutally repressive Apartheid regime, and whether universities have to reposition South African literature now, after decades of the censorship by the South African government of most of its black writers and poets. “This is an exciting time for South African and African literature,” said Pinto.
McCorkle presented “Zakes Mda: Intersections of the Autochthonic and Ekphrastic.” The paper focused on the South African novelist and playwright Mda’s two novels, “Ways of Dying” and “The Madonna of Excelsior” and both the making and the representation of art as a way of establishing and maintaining political belonging, particularly belonging to the land and recognizing one’s own land as belonging to oneself.
“Apartheid, which Mda directly addresses in these two novels, sought to disenfranchise Africans from their land–politically and arguably ecologically and spiritually–but Mda’s novels, I argue, point to a resilience that was part of the resistance to apartheid,” explained McCorkle. “These are great, complex novels that everyone should read in order to be educated!”
Arnold ’10 presented “Imagining Africa in the Multicultural Museum.” Using the Seattle Art Museum and the African Burial Ground as case studies, his paper considered how evocations of multiculturalism in spaces of African art often lead to the conflation of an African and African-American identity. The paper discussed Kente cloth at great length, as a way to combat such a conflation, and to illustrate how African objects can be negotiated around many different identities.
“I presented at the ALA conference exactly one year from the completion of the Honors project, so it served as both a reminder of a major accomplishment while also acting as closure,” explained Arnold.
The paper was based in part on an Honors project he conducted in Art History and Africana Studies with McCorkle, who describes it as “a remarkable project on the presentation of African art and how we view those objects.”
McCorkle noted the opportunity to see Arnold present at the conference was a delightful twist to this year’s conference. “His work is really deeply engaging, immensely thoughtful. His interdisciplinary work–art history, cultural studies, Africana studies–represents the intellectual goals of HWS. I feel very fortunate to have directed his Honors project,” he said.
Arnold earned his B.A. in Art History and Africana Studies cum laude from Hobart College. While on campus, he participated in Thel, was a member of Orange Key and was frequently named to Dean’s List. He participated in the semester in Senegal program and earned the Martha Monser Justice Prize in Art. Arnold is currently a graduate student in art history at City College of New York.
“The importance of African literature and thought moves beyond academic boundaries–to me it is transformational,” said McCorkle.